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The first cohort of the Independent News Challenge includes: Hannah Sung (top left), Melissa Villeneuve (top middle), Martin Lukacs (top right) and team, Ayesha Barmania and Will Pearson (bottom left), Brandi Schier (bottom middle), John White (bottom right).

These journalist entrepreneurs are working together to grow new media outlets in Canada

Meet the people selected for the Independent News Challenge.

Back in the fall, we announced the Independent News Challenge (INC). The Discourse’s goal is to share what we’ve learned growing a new media company over the last six years, mobilize our network and resources, and roll up our sleeves — all to help the next generation of entrepreneur journalists grow independent projects.

The response was incredible. We received nearly 40 applications from across Canada: exciting projects filling gaps in local reporting, connecting diverse communities in dialogue, sharing untold stories, and more.

The future is bright. We already knew that dozens of startups and small digital publishers have launched in Canada in the past few years to fill gaps in coverage left as newspapers close or reduce service across the country. The response to the Independent News Challenge tells us that there are many, many more new startups to come.

After a lot of debating, we selected six projects to participate. Meet the entrepreneur journalists working together to develop and grow independent outlets across Canada.

Peterborough, Ontario

Independent radio producer and journalist Ayesha Barmania and freelance journalist and Broadview Magazine associate editor Will Pearson are expanding their podcast, Peterborough Currents, to include more investigative work and local news reporting.

“We’re feeling a desperate lack of – but also an opportunity for – in-depth and thoughtful coverage in Ontario, in regions outside the GTA and Ottawa,” writes Ayesha. “Peterborough is not quite a ‘news desert’ but news agencies seem to lack the resources to do the investigative digging and lack the time to interrogate the wider political context for many issues. We’d like to work on filling this gap with Peterborough Currents – by working on stories that give sharp insights into the news of the day.”

Sun Peaks, British Columbia

Brandi Schier, publisher and managing editor of Sun Peaks Independent News, is charting the future course of the 17-year-old local newspaper serving her mountain community. 

“Our readers and community members are generally very engaged, and I’m excited to find a sustainable, local journalism model that will continue to support Sun Peaks into the future and could potentially be used in other locations as well,” she shares. “We are just scratching the surface of what could be covered in our region. There’s no real alternative media voice focusing on Indigenous issues, climate, or bigger, more complicated stories.”

Edmonton, Alberta

John White, a veteran digital editor formerly at the Winnipeg Free Press and Edmonton Journal and member of the Manitoba Métis community, was ahead of his time when he founded an online outlet called Winnipeg First in 2007 and is now building Spotlight Alberta.

“It feels like there’s a confluence of emotion reigniting the hunger for meaningful journalism,” writes John. “Trump mainstreaming hate, U.S. hedge funds running news organizations into the ground, Postmedia simultaneously rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic and pressuring newsrooms to lean right-wing, debt-ridden giants seeking government bailouts. But journalistic upstarts are emerging and willing to fight through the noise with unflinching and dedicated vigour.”

Toronto, Ontario

Hannah Sung, a 2020 Asper Fellow, Western University Information and Media Studies faculty member and a former Globe and Mail journalist who brought us Colour Code, is exploring new podcast ideas.

“I see podcasts as a way to connect people with those they think are politically diametrically opposed,” Hannah writes. “Podcasts can inject nuance and emotion and hopefully empowerment through deep knowledge. I want to create podcast content that is an antidote to social media polarization.”

Lethbridge, Alberta

Melissa Villeneuve, formerly Lethbridge Herald reporter and Lethbridge Living managing editor, wants to bring people with different perspectives together in southern Alberta.

“My goal is to diversify the coverage provided in this area,” Melissa explains. “It is essential for society to have a balanced perspective when it comes to the news.”

Montreal and beyond 

Former Guardian journalist and author of “The Trudeau Formula” Martin Lukacs is working with a team on a new progressive digital media project.

“Establishment media in Canada lack racial, gender, class and ideological diversity and their coverage has generated hopelessness about the possibility of a thriving future,” writes Martin. “Canada is witness to rising new youth-driven movements whose politics are simply not reflected or represented.”


The Discourse sought funding from the Facebook Journalism Project and Inspirit Foundation to support the Independent News Challenge. We are planning to offer another cohort in future. If you want to get involved email: erin@thediscourse.ca.

Join us for Indie News Talks

We were so inspired by all of the great ideas people shared that we want to do more to help journalist entrepreneurs (whether established or aspiring) share knowledge and connect with one another.

Enter Indie News Talks. We invited some of the smartest journalist entrepreneurs we know to share the stories behind how they started and tips on the business side of growing an independent news outlet. Below are the first three. Tune in online for free via ZOOM.

Q&A with Emma Gilchrist, The Narwhal
How The Narwhal created a brand that makes investigative journalism about the environment as cool as a music festival.
February 12 – 12pm PT / 3pm ET
Register here to receive the ZOOM link

Q&A with Anika Anand, LION Publishers, The Evergrey
How WhereBy.Us used product development concepts from the tech world to build great local news offerings, like The Evergrey.
February 26 – 12pm PT / 3pm ET
Register here to receive the ZOOM link

Q&A with Predrag Blagojević, Južne Vesti
How Južne Vesti found creative ways to build new digital audiences and become the force driving forward independent news in the Balkans.
March 11 – 12pm PT / 3pm ET
Register here to receive the ZOOM link